WASHINGTON -- The lack of a down payment and scarcity of affordable housing are perceived by the public as the largest obstacles to homeownership, according to a Fannie Mae survey.

Among Americans who went homes, almost two-thirds said getting enough money for the down payment and closing costs was a major barrier to buying a home. Half of the respondents said finding a home they liked and could afford was an obstacle.

The annual survey, conducted by pollsters Peter Hart and Robert Teeter, is the third of its kind. This year, 1,403 people were questioned on their attitudes toward homeownership. This year, the focus was on renters as Fannie Mae works to convert more renters into owners.

For African-Americans, the survey showed, discrimination continues to be perceived as a powerful barrier.

Forty-two percent of African-Americans polled said discrimination or social barriers were a major obstacle to homeownership, ranking only below the difficulties of putting together a down payment, finding an affordable home, and the right neighborhood.

Fifty-four percent of African-American polled say members of their ethnic group face discrimination in getting a mortgage all or most of the time, a number largely unchanged since 1992, when Fannie Mae first began the surveys.

James A. Johnson, chairman of Fannie Mae, said the finding underscores discrimination is "a very significant problem" facing the mortgage finance system, and that the system must do a great deal better in dealing with minorities.

Making Adjustments

Given the importance of howeownership to Americans, it is incumbent on Fannie Mae to do everything it can -- such as adjusting down payments and underwriting standards - to ensure that Fannie Mae doesn't unnecessarily stand in the way of the homeownership dream, Mr. Johnson said.

He said the results of the survey would help Fannie Mae to allocate its budget and develop new products.

For example, the agency has significantly raised its spending on consumer information, advertising, and outreach because it has learned in past years that a lack of information about the system inhibits prospective homebuyers, Mr. Johnson said.

In a market reeling from a precipitous drop in refinancings, at least one findings released Monday should bolster the sagging hopes of lenders. It shows that despite the recent rise in rates, three out of four Americans believe this a good time to buy a home.

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